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Inbee the player to beat at U.S. Women's Open

Inbee Park of South Korea holds the trophy after winning the LPGA Golf Championship in Pittsford, New York June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Fenste
Inbee Park of South Korea holds the trophy after winning the LPGA Golf Championship in Pittsford, New York June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Fenste

(Reuters) - It is very difficult to look beyond South Korea's Park Inbee as a likely winner of this week's U.S. Women's Open in Sebonack, New York where the world number one will be bidding to clinch her third major crown of the year.

Inbee has dominated the women's game this season, triumphing five times on the U.S. LPGA Tour, and she will tee off in Thursday's opening round at Sebonack Country Club fresh from victory at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship on Sunday.

"I've played very good golf the last two or three months," Inbee, 24, told reporters at Sebonack on Tuesday while preparing for the third women's major of the year. "Everything's going the way I really want it to.

"I'm hitting the ball and striking it great and putting it very well. Especially last week, I hit the ball very well and that gave me a lot of confidence coming into this week.

"This is the best I'm playing in my career so far, and I'm trying to keep this going."

Inbee, who won last month's LPGA Championship at Locust Hill where she beat Briton Catriona Matthew in a three-hole sudden death playoff, is aiming to become only the fourth player to claim three LPGA majors in a single season.

Asked if she felt any extra pressure coming into this week, Inbee replied: "I've had a lot of wins this year and that's definitely taken a lot of pressure off of me.

"Coming into this season after last season I was really doubting myself if I could do as good as last year, but I've done a lot better ... that's taken a lot of pressure off of me, and it's just been helping my game a lot."

Inbee, who at 19 became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. Women's Open with a four-shot victory in the 2008 edition at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, Minnesota, triumphed twice on the 2012 LPGA Tour.

VIRTUALLY UNSTOPPABLE

This year, she has been virtually unstoppable, landing five titles in 12 starts on the circuit after dramatically improving her driving accuracy and the precision of her long game.

"I was having a lot of trouble with my tee shot, missing it right with push-type of balls," said Inbee, an eight-times champion on the LPGA Tour. "But I fixed that a lot and I am able to hit a lot more fairways.

"I've also been giving myself a lot of opportunities for birdie, whereas before I was putting for pars all the time. Now I have a lot of opportunities at birdies. My long game I think has improved a lot more."

American world number two Stacy Lewis, who was replaced at the top of the rankings by Inbee earlier this year, has been hugely impressed by the Korean's consistency.

"For the players, it's frustrating to see someone sit there and win week after week after week," said the 28-year-old Lewis, who won her only major title at the 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship. "But she's making good putts and she's steady.

"Every time I feel like she may have an okay round, then the next day she's up there on the leaderboard again. She's just always there, always giving herself a chance, and nothing really seemed to faze her.

"That's the big thing. She just makes putt after putt after putt, and she's there at the end of the day."

Situated on Peconic Bay in eastern Long Island, Sebonack Country Club will tease the players off the tee this week with its wide fairways before taunting them with its tricky greens and, most likely, tough pin positions.

"It's a second-shot golf course, which I think suits my game pretty well," said Lewis, a double winner on the 2013 LPGA Tour. "You don't have to drive it perfect off the tees, but you've got to play smart into the greens.

"You can take it off of ridges, you can go multiple ways to get the ball close, and I like that. I think it brings in another aspect of the game that the U.S. Opens haven't tested in the past few years."

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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